Woog’s World: Sept. 11’s indelible legacy of loss
Updated 6:33 am, Friday, September 11, 2015
It was not, of course. There are students now attending Staples High School who were not yet born that horrific day.
Sept. 11, 2001, changed all of our lives, whether we were alive that day or not. We know it now, and we sensed it then.
Fifteen years ago — on Sept. 14, 2001 — I wrote this “Woog’s World” column. It seems as appropriate now as it was then.
Now that same city was under attack. From the largest McMansion to the most modest Westport home, men and women frantically tried to contact spouses, relatives and friends who work in downtown Manhattan.
At Staples High School, teenagers who grew up thinking the worst thing that can happen is wearing the wrong shirt or shoes were engaged in a similar quest.
Many of their fathers and mothers work in New York. Many others knew loved ones who were flying that morning, or were in Washington, or somewhere else that might become the next city under siege.
Meanwhile, on Whitney Street, a pretty young woman dressed in her best late-summer clothes rode a bicycle down the road.
It was, after all, a beautiful day. There was not a cloud in the sky — not unless you count the clouds filled with flames, dust and debris erupting from the collapse of the World Trade Center.
It was a perfect day to ride a bicycle, unless of course you were terrified you had lost a loved one, were glued to a TV set wherever you could find one, or were so overwhelmed by grief and rage and fright and confusion because you had no idea what was next for America that riding a bicycle was absolutely the furthest thing from your mind.
On the other hand, perhaps riding a bicycle was exactly the right reaction. Perhaps doing something so innocent, so routine, so life-affirming, was just what some of us should have been doing.
If tragedy teaches us anything, it is that human beings react to stress in a variety of ways. Who is to say that riding a bicycle is not the perfect way to tell Osama bin Laden, or whoever turns out to be responsible for these dastardly deeds, that America’s spirit will not be broken?
But I could not have ridden a bicycle on Tuesday. I sat transfixed, devouring the television coverage of events that, in their own way, may turn out to be as transforming for this world as Pearl Harbor was nearly 60 years earlier.
I could not bear to watch what I was seeing, but I could not tear myself away. Each time I saw the gaping holes in those two towers, every time I saw those enormous symbols of strength and power and (even in these economically shaky times) American prosperity crumble upon themselves like a silly disaster movie, the scene was more surreal than before.
Life will be equally surreal for all of us, for a long time to come.
I wondered, as I watched the jet planes slam into the World Trade Center over and over and over again, what must have been going through each passenger’s mind.
Like many Westporters, I fly often. Like most I grumble about delays and crowded planes. But like them too I feel a secret, unspoken thrill every time the sky is clear, the air is blue and the scenery terrific. Tuesday was that kind of day.
For the rest of my life, I suspect, flying will never be the same. And the increased security we will face at every airport, on each plane, is only part of what I fear.
So much remains to be sorted out. We will hear, in the days to come, of Westporters who lost family members and friends in the World Trade Center. We will hear of those who lost jobs when their companies collapsed, either directly or indirectly, as a result of this terrorism.
We will drive along the New Jersey Turnpike, or stand in Manhattan, perhaps even take out-of-town guests to gaze at the landmark we will come to call “the place where the Twin Towers used to be.”
Our casual grocery store and soccer sideline conversations will be filled with stories: who was where when the terror first hit, and what happened in the hours after.
Our newspapers and airwaves will be clogged with experts trying to explain — though that will never be possible — what it all means for us, in the short term and long term, as individuals and a society.
Our world has already changed, in ways that will take years, if not decades, to understand. We are nowhere close to comprehending the meaning of all this.
The world will go on, of course. Our planet will continue to spin. Men and women will continue to commute to New York, and pretty women in Westport will continue to ride bicycles down Whitney Street.
At the same time, sadly, none of that will ever be the same.